The University of Leeds has been awarded £4.2 million to lead part of a national infrastructure research project in the U.K. with the vision of using small robots to create “self-repairing cities.” The general idea is to create swarms of small robots that will be able to zip around cities, keeping out of the way of people while proactively identifying weak infrastructure and making repairs before anything actually goes wrong.
This award is part of a larger national initiative to explore “how new ways of using robotics and autonomous systems can restore the balance between engineered and natural systems in the cities of the future.” This sounds awesome, and technological optimism is great, but it’s also important to temper expectations with reality, and avoid getting swept up in the hype of a press release. Like, that “of the future” phrase should immediately make you suspicious, because of a.) its rampant overuse in headlines by lazy tech bloggers b.) its inherently nonspecific nature. In other words, if something sounds implausibly good, well, it probably is, especially if there’s not a lot of detail to go along with it.
We do have some details about what the robotics part of this project is going to focus on, and it’s some pretty crazy stuff that we’re guessing is never actually going to happen.